Why have Russian Cosmonauts never landed on the Moon?

Question posed by Happydaiz

This is a political question, rather than a scientific one, and I'm not particularly politically minded, but I'll do my best to give a measured response. Any readers must, however, bear in mind that much of this post will be based on opinion rather than fact, and I would welcome comments from people better educated in the historical and political aspects of this theme.

The first manned moon landing occurred on 20th July 1969, when Apollo 11's lander, Eagle, touched down in the Sea of Tranquillity. The decades leading up to this were ones of worldwide tension and political conflict as, in the aftermath of World War II, the major powers of the world (mainly the USSR and the USA) embarked upon an informal programme of mutual distrust and competition known as the Cold War. The main players' militaries never officially clashed, and the conflict was played out through espionage and propaganda, strategic military deployments and coalitions, and technological competition including arms races and the Space Race.

The Space Race saw the Soviet Union and the United States of America locked in an intellectual and technological battle to conquer various frontiers of space, and became a significant part of the rivalry between the two nations. Efforts began with exploring space remotely, using artificial satellites, and progressed to sending human beings into space, with landing a man on the moon being seen as the final, golden, objective. Space was an important frontier to conquer from many perspectives, not least from one of political displays of might and technology, and possibly most strongly from one of military potential.

Whilst the US had sent the first animals into space in 1946 using captured German V-2 rockets, the Soviet Union made a good start in the race, being ahead of the US in its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), a grandparent of today's space rocket technology. On 4th October 1957,  the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to be successfully inserted into orbit. A month later they launched Sputnik 2, which included the first animal to be placed in orbit around the Earth. The US caught up three months later when it successfully launched its first satellite, Explorer 1.

The US overtook the USSR when it launched the first communications satellite, Project SCORE, on 18th December 1958. In 1960, the USSR launched the first dogs into space that were to survive and come back again.

In 1961 (12th April), the first human, Yuri Gagarin, was sent into space, representing a massive space race victory for the USSR as he orbited the Earth for 108 minutes. On 20th February of the next year, John Glenn successfully orbited the Earth as America caught up.

In June 1963, the USSR put the first woman (Valentina Tereshkova) into space, and in July the US satellite Syncom-2 became the first satellite in geosynchronous orbit, representing a leap forwards in global telecommunications technology.

After the US announcement of the Apollo moon-landing programme, the USSR stepped up its efforts, and in October 1964 launched the first three-man crew into space*. The first spacewalk was carried out on 18th March 1965 by Russian Alexy Leonov.

The US Apollo programme was developed as a project to capture public imagination as well as ensuring spin-off scientific and technical benefits, and in 1968, the US leapt to the front of the space race when the first humans, Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and Bill Anders, orbited the moon (and celebrated Christmas in space) shortly after the USSR had sent the first animals around the moon.

A series of launch failures and cosmonaut deaths held back the Russian fight for first place, although Soviet probes (Lunar 9 was the first, on 3rd February 1963) did reach the moon before any US craft. On 21st July 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon, after having landed the previous day.

Many people see this event as being the end of the space race, although such a statement could be debated through the night with no hope of conclusion: Many Russians claim that by sending the first man into space, they won the 'race' back in 1961.

Apollo 11 was followed by five more lunar landings, but US attention was largely turned to other ventures, including the Space Shuttle. The Cold War subsided, and the two nations continued their space programmes less driven by the desire for one-upmanship that had led to the moon landings. Attention returned to areas of space closer to home, largely for military purposes, but also for reasons of cost and politics. A large number of people see the real end of the Cold War as having occurred in 1975 when the Soviet Soyuz-19 and the American Apollo docked together, allowing astronauts from the two nations to work together for the first time.

So why have no Russian cosmonauts gone to the moon?
This is the bit which is mostly speculation, but it seems to me that once America had 'won' the race to the moon, it didn't make economic or political sense for the USSR to continue chasing a goal that had already been achieved. In much the same way that America's own moon landing programme fizzled out and stopped, the USSR just didn't have the public or political backing to spend the time, effort and money on a venture which was largely undertaken in the first place as a display of power and technological superiority.

* This was also the first non-spacesuited trip into space.


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